Alexander-Reid sawWomen in the Lifeevolve into non-proﬁtover 18 years
By JOEY DiGUGLIELMO email@example.comLesbian activist and events promoterSheila Alexander-Reid has announcedshe’s stepping down from heading theD.C.-based Women in the Life Associationafter 18 years. It concludes with a bountyof activities this weekend.A party being billed as “The Last FirstFriday” is tonight from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. atthe Loft at the Warehouse (4th and Pennstreets, N.E. off New York Avenue). Anopen mic night was held Thursday night.On Saturday, a cocktail reception will beheld at Martin’s Lounge at 1919 9th St. (near9th and U) from 7-11 p.m. featuring singer/songwriter Angie Head. Admission totonight’s party is $20. Saturday’s is $15. Visitlastﬁrstfriday.com for more information.Women in the Life has been mostlyinactive for the last year. Alexander-Reidsaid many of the factors that contributedto the group’s founding are moot pointsnow. She’s also at a different time and agein her own life, she said.“I’m quite frankly just tired,” she said.“I’m hearing from all over the countrypeople saying, ‘You can’t let this die, itneeds to continue,’ and so on. When westarted there was more of a need for safespaces for professional lesbians of color toget together, raise visibility in the greaterLGBT community … some of the mainreasons we started are no longer needed.There are other needs that I’d eventuallylike to address, things like mental healthconcerns, obesity, smoking, but right nowI’m taking a break. It remains to be seen if this is just a hiatus for Women in the Lifeor the end. It may come back in a differentincarnation, but we’ll see. I’m open to thatbut I’m not committing to that.”Bob Witeck, of Witeck-CombsCommunication and a former Women inthe Life board member, said it’s a differentera in many ways from when Alexander-Reid formed the organization.“She was pre-Internet,” he said. “Noneof us had these tools to connect the waywe do now. I wouldn’t say she’s old school,but the place she held has changed andthose gaps and vacuums are different thanthey used to be.”Witeck said Alexander-Reid deserveshigh praise for her efforts.“She fulﬁlled a pioneering leadershipthat is unparalleled,” he said. “There reallyisn’t a counterpart for the bridge that shebuilt. Plus she’s just exciting to be aroundwith her warmth and her curiosity. She’sa dynamo who changes and improveseverything she touches.”Women in the Life began as a for-proﬁt events agency providing First Fridaynightclub events for local black lesbians.Alexander-Reid said over the years, her crowdwas typically between 75-80 percent black. Itbroadened into the scope of a non-proﬁt inthe early ‘00s when she started publishinga newsletter/magazine for her regulars thatwas extraordinarily popular. After her friend,Wanda Alston, was murdered, she startedWanda’s Will Project to encourage lesbiansto get wills in place. All along, Alexander-Reid maintained her job as a businessdevelopment manager at City Paper. Shesaid eventually Women in the Life got out of control and could have easily been a full-time job, so she pulled back.“I feel good about what I accomplished,”she said. “But our community has so muchmore now and I’d like to take a break.”
Trans group getsrolling while EqualityMaryland regroups
By JOEY DiGUGLIELMO firstname.lastname@example.org
Things continue percolating for LGBTactivist groups in Maryland. Gender RightsMaryland, a new group dedicated togetting trans protection legislation passed,had its launch events last weekend. Andthis week Equality Maryland announced astrategic plan for how it plans to regroupand rebuild for the rest of the year.On June 23, Gender Rights held agathering at Blair Mansion Inn Restaurantin Silver Spring. According to Dana Beyer,the group’s volunteer executive director,about 60 attended.“It was kicked off with a lot of enthusiasm,” Beyer said. “There was a nicebroad spectrum of people there and it wasvery inspiring. There was deﬁnitely a sensethat this was a historic event. There’s neverbeen a trans-focused politically directedorganization in Maryland before.”Last weekend, the group’s organizers metwith leaders from national LGBT groupsbased in Washington at the DoubleTreeHotel on Rhode Island Avenue, then onSunday the board held its ﬁrst meeting.The organization has a 16-member boardbut hopes to expand to 18.Beyer, who co-founded the organizationwith four other transgender Marylandresidents, says the group has been adream of hers for years. A number of considerations, Beyer says, factored intothe timing of the group’s formation — apublic accommodations bill getting furtheralong toward passage (though it ultimatelyfell one vote shy of what it needed) in thestate’s most recent legislative session andthe national media attention that a videoreceived showing Maryland resident ChrissyLee Polis getting beaten in a McDonald’srestaurant in April. Beyer says many in thegroup have assisted Polis in getting help.They say she’s doing well. Polis attendedBaltimore Pride two weekends ago.Also last week, Equality Marylandannounced a six-month “strategic actionplan” that the organization’s remainingﬁve board members are enacting. Theorganization is in the midst of “a thoroughself-evaluation” the release said. Recentmonths have been tumultuous for thegroup. Former director Morgan Meneses-Sheets was ﬁred in April. Two LGBT bills— one for same-sex marriage and anotherfor transgender accommodations — failedearlier this year. The board is about half thesize it was six months ago. Only one personremains on staff, an ofﬁce manager. Otheremployees of recent months had contractsthat were not renewed, the board said.“Over the past two months, the remainingmembers of the board have undertaken athorough process of self-evaluation,” saidPatrick Wojahn, chair of Equality MarylandFoundation, which leads the organization’seducation efforts, in the announcement.“Through individual conversations, over adozen Listening Tour stops and more than1,200 responses to our online survey, wehave actively gathered input about whatpeople want to see from their statewideequality organization. We have coupled thatinput with the results of a comprehensiveinternal review and developed a strong six-month plan that will allow Equality Marylandto become the organization it must be inorder to achieve legislative and culturalequality in our state.”Board Chair Lisa Polyak mentionedseveral other goals, such as a “major”reconstitution of the board with “morediversity and a bigger skills set,” thehiring — tentatively slated for fall — of a new executive director with a new jobdescription, ﬁnancial stabilization and“more input from the community aboutwhat our mission should be.”Polyak said board members haveleft for a variety of reasons. At least oneresigned over the handling of Meneses-Sheets’ employment but another, ScottDavenport, moved out of the area andanother took on more responsibilities athis job, Polyak said.“It wouldn’t be fair to characterize it asany one thing,” she said.Polyak said the formation of GenderRights Maryland is a “natural evolutionfor the trans community” and citedother states, such as New York andMassachusetts, that have both state LGBTorganizations and separate transgenderpolitical groups.“I think it’s a great thing,” she said. “Itultimately gives more power to the issueof gender identity concerns, which, frankly, just based on numbers, is numericallysmall. It makes sense that they might havetheir own organization for protections. …We look forward to working with them.”Did the Equality Maryland upheavalcontribute to the formation of Gender RightsMaryland? Beyer, a former Equality Marylandboard member, said “nothing in politics orlife is ever completely isolated” and that it’shard to quantify to what degree one series of events affected her group’s launch.
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Gender Rights Maryland launches
02 • JULY 01, 2011LOCAL NEWS
is discontinuing her Women in the Life events after this weekend’s bevy of activities. It remains to be seen if the group will continue in another incarnation.
WASHINGTON BLADE FILE PHOTO
Black lesbian event has ﬁnal party tonight